Dinas Bran from Llangollen - I

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Dinas Bran from Llangollen - I
Dinas Bran from Llangollen - I
Dinas Bran from Llangollen - I
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Dinas Bran from Llangollen - I
1770-71 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 180 x 245 cm
Imperial: 70 3/4 x 96 1/2 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
The prospect is from a point along the banks of the River Dee in Denbighshire and leads the eye towards Llangollen village and up to the western side of Castell Dinas Bran (Crow Castle). The large expanse of territory surrounding Dinas Bran belonged to Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn Bart (1748-89), paramount landlord of Denbighshire and one of the richest men in Britain. In actuality however, the fortress is hemmed in by hills and far less imposing than it appears here. In the foreground traditional rural characters are in evidence, most notably the faggot gatherers to the left, who combine this activity with the removal of a large fallen tree. The girl who holds the faggots has evidently taken time off from washing clothes, with her basket standing prominently near her in profile. She shows a surprising awareness of London fashions of the day in the shape, material and angle of her shallow, tilted hat, which may also be intended to shield her eyes from the sun. There are small travelling figures and sheep silhouetted along the road behind to the left.
RA 1771 (222); BI 1814 (145/148 - The Bridge at Llangothlen, with Castle Dinas Bran; Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street 1833 (102); BI 1848 (131); London 1870 (27); Wrexham 1876 (393); RA Old Masters 1888 (152); Agnew 1926 (6); London 1934 (216 - Crow Castle, near Llangollen); Birmingham 1948-49 (64); London 1949 (63); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (133); Sydney 1998 (26); Tercentenary 2014 (81)
Commissioned by Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, probably just after he came of age in 1769; thence by descent to Sir Owen Watkin Williams-Wynn (1891-1949) Dolbven; Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd, from whom purchased by Paul Mellon, 1971; presented to the Yale Center for British Art, 1976
Sgned indistinctly on rock lower right: RW [monogram, R reversed]
Techniques and materials
The trees are painted within reserves apart from the second tree on the right (left of the two), which is painted over the bank. The clumsy scale of the washing-basket in the centre foreground is noteworthy.
The western side of the ancient hill fortress of Dinas Bran (or Crow Castle as Wilson called it in 1771), overlooked the River Dee and Llangollen, with the 14th century bridge and the church tower of St Gollen downstream at the right, the proprietors of which were the Williams-Wynn family. The castle, traditionally an old royal Welsh fortress, was on the property of Wynn's neighbours, the Myddeltons, from nearby Chirk Castle, who were Members of Parliament for the other Denbighshire seat. Wilson has much exaggerated the height. However, most of the features, including the bridge, church tower of 1749, and the rocky outcrop in the river at the centre of the composition, are faithfully rendered and Wilson's location is still recognisable today.
Related Drawings
D374 Castell Dinas Bran, Wales, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
D374A Dinas Bran from Llangollen National Museum Wales, Cardiff
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Related Works by Other Artists
Claude Lorraine (1600-82), A River Landscape with Jacob, Laban and his Daughters, Petworth House, National Trust
Critical commentary
Mary Woodall noted that Wilson carefully places some trees in the right foreground as a pictorial counterweight to the hill and composes his scene generally to suggest a world of easy balance and harmony, both within nature and between nature and man. The landscape is not just a pleasure to the eye but productive. The spectator is encouraged to contemplate Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn's paternalistic benevolence, transmitted by the employed and contented figures, and understand the particular historical and cultural identity of Wales as a place of timeless Arcadian simplicity maintained under his aegis.
Previous Cat/Ref Nos
Object ID 4989
Pennant 1784, vol. 1, pp. 297-98; Booth Notes Doc. 4; Booth Notes, Doc. 5, p. 1; Catalogue 1814, p. 20; Agar Ellis, Diary, 16 July 1823; Wright 1824, p. 272; Hazlitt 1843-44, vol. 1, pp. 186-87; Commemorative Catalogue 1934, 104 (Crow Castle, near Llangollen, pl. XXXIX); Ralph Edwards, 'Richard Wilson II - Mood in Landscape Painting', Country Life,vol. 98, November 23 1945, pp. 914-15; Bury 1947, p. 72 & pl. 45; Ford 1951, pp. 38, 63, pl. 77; WGC, pp. 44, 73, 94, 175-76, pl. 36a; Constable 1954, p. 140; Brinsley Ford, 'Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, a Welsh Maecenas', Apollo, vol. 99, April-June 1974, p. 438; Solkin 1978, vol. 16, p. 409, no. 27, pp. 409, 413-14; Solkin 1982, pp. 130-32, 238; Cormack 1985, pp. 252 & 253; Michael Rosenthal, The Art of Thomas Gainsborough, New Haven & London, 1999, p. 204; J.H. Casid, Sowing Empire - Landscape and Colonisation, 2005, Minneapolis & London, pp. 180-81; William Laffan & Brendan Rooney Thomas Roberts: Landscape and Patronage in Eighteenth Century Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland, 2009, pp. 251-53; Bonehill and Daniels, p. 220, fig. 50; Hernon 2013, pp. 11, 125-26, pl. 13B; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 266; I. Kennedy, The British Art Journal, vol. XIX, no. 3, Winter 2018/2019, pp. 84-85.
More Information
This painting and P166 (View near Wynnstay, the Seat of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection) hung in Sir Watkin's London house, 20 St James's Square, built by Robert Adam between 1771 and 1774. The Wynnstay papers record payments to Wilson of £50 on account for 'two large Landskips now in hand by me' on 5 February 1770. Final payment for the present painting of 200 guineas (£210) is recorded on 5 June 1770 (receipted 3 July 1771), after he had exhibited both paintings at the Royal Academy that year.
Lined. Foam backboard. Drip in centre - water damage.
Kate Lowry has noted: Stretcher size: 1800 x 2450mm (70 ¾ x 96 ½ ins ) Canvas size approx: 1790 x 2445mm (70 ½ x 96 ¼ ins). Simple weave linen canvas approx 12 threads per square cm. Relined onto close weave linen with glue adhesive. Most of the original turnover canvas is missing, but a little remains at top and bottom edges, enabling us to see that the ground is a pale warm tone and was commercially prepared, extending beyond the edges of the paint. Vection cracks indicate that the original stretcher consisted of four outer members and one vertical cross-member (each 3 ins wide) and 4 corner braces (each 2 ¼ ins wide). Present nine member stretcher dates from relining, has square mortice joints and provision for keying out.
Sky appears to be painted with lead white and ultramarine in the central area with more Prussian blue applied toward the margins. Some of the darker cloud masses at upper left, which underlie the varnish film, may be old overpaint as under magnification the upper paint layer falls into the cracks, but the green-blue paint at upper right may be original. The centre sky covers the warm ground tone completely, whilst the margins of the sky are much more thinly painted leaving the warm ground tone showing through, especially at upper left corner. There are strong drying cracks around the foreground figure group, the man chopping wood, the girl and the young man bending over to gather branches and also in the foliage of the trees above them which suggests extensive reworking in this area. By contrast the figures heaving on a rope are painted quite simply with warm ground tone visible around them and the reflection of the mill in the water may also be the ground tone slightly glazed over.
The branches and foliage of the trees at left against the sky show Wilson's habit of leaving the warm tone of the ground visible around them and this is also found around the outline of the hill of Dinas Bran. Sky at upper left is also applied thinly allowing the warm ground tone to come through. UV light shows minor retouches at all margins and around the main figures over the varnish. There is a colour difference down the left hand margin which may have something to do with previous stretching or framing. Under IR, UV and in raking normal light it is possible to see another tree trunk and foliage at right hand side, to the left of the existing ones, which Wilson painted out and which eventually became a pentiment and has been retouched out again. IR also shows the drawing in of the mill and its wheel on the river in the background but no obvious drawing in of the foreground and mid ground figures.